A proud Gilroy tradition we’re lucky to be party to

We’re lucky to be part of a neighborhood where there’s an annual
Americana throwback fabulous Fourth of July celebration. It’s been
going on
– at least the parade part of it which kicks the day off – for
35 years.
We’re lucky to be part of a neighborhood where there’s an annual Americana throwback fabulous Fourth of July celebration. It’s been going on – at least the parade part of it which kicks the day off – for 35 years.

This year Ernie Zermeno, erstwhile coach, Gilroy High Principal and education consultant, rolled up on his bicycle to watch his grandchild parade up and down the street for the judges in full Fourth regalia. “E.Z.” had just played golf with my old friend Larry Welsh, the Atascadero High legend, and the best high school football coach I’ll ever see.

Larry could spot and develop talent, scheme with precision, motivate like a drill sergeant or a promised-land preacher and march a program onward to victory. And he did it year in and year out for a long time.

In California, Atascadero was about as close to Friday Night Texas Lights as you were going to get and I’d bet on Larry and the Greyhounds over either of Coach Eric Taylor’s teams in the TV series set in Dillon, Texas. Those were the “Before Gilroy” days when I was a wet-behind-the-ears sports editor and life was simple. Ah, the days before there were Jack Daley controversies to oversee in a newsroom and stories that incited apoplectic rage like when the Gilroy School Board publicly said it could no longer start Board meetings with a prayer. They had to move that meeting to the gym at South Valley Junior High. The superintendent at the time, Ken Noonan, quivered at the microphone while he recited the requisite justifying legalese to the hostile crowd of 800 or so.

There are always controversies in our town, but the latest ones have been weighty … School Board member Francisco Dominguez accused of stealing $52,000 from non-profit South County Collaborative and the South County Collaborative Board deciding not to turn over that allegation to independent law enforcement investigators; Jack Daley being removed as athletic director over a firestorm of community protest; and former City Councilman Craig Gartman arrested for allegedly stealing money from the Memorial Day parade fund and … what’s next?

On the Fourth, “E.Z.” showed up, our friendly and fantastic neighbors like Nick Zukowski, Sue Briscoe and Chris Cali, set up the makeshift judge’s stand, patriotic music engulfed the air, “official photographer” Andy Ordons snapped away and there were a whole passel of carefree kids, including our wide-eyed 1-year-old grandson Jackson, decked out in living Fourth of July salutes. Wagons were flagged and draped, ribbons were attached, animals sported red, white and blue bandannas, 83-year-old former Marine Dick Gomer proudly served as Grand Marshal, an honor bestowed on the oldest parade participant, and all the world spun back to the sweet and simple American life for a little while. Nostalgia bloomed, and with it came the little tap on the shoulder that reminds one to enjoy life’s goodness and quietly make the thankful nod to the good Lord for all one’s blessings, hardly the least of which is to be a citizen of our great and beloved country.

The parade leads to a respite before a whopping BBQ party and feast captained by the legendary team of Darryl and Donna Manson. They’ve assembled a world class BBQ team as anchor and enlisted the neighbors to supply side dishes, desserts and some organizational muscle. On the grill are former Gilroy Police Officer Steve Morrow, Garlic Festival Calamari Colonel Pyro Chef John Vickroy, G-Fest Prez-to-Be Hugh Davis and Don “The Butcher” Roberts. It’s a Who’s Who of Gilroy BBQ and, yes, what comes off that fire is that good.

While the men, men, men tend, tend, tend to the fire, fire, fire, there are games – many games, the kind of games that put smiles on faces and result in treasured dollar-store medals that are stored away for 20 years in keepsake boxes only to be gazed on occasionally. On site, memory sparks fly and a quick grin ensues.

Gunny sack races, bubble gum blowing, pie eating, water balloon throw, hula hoop endurance, egg toss, watermelon chomp … it’s a contest smorgasbord that gobbles up an afternoon in waves with varied categories for kids, adults and mixed ages. While witnessing 30-something guys in a pie-eating contest is a hoot, it doesn’t hold a candle to watching a 9-year-old girl dive headlong into a hefty watermelon slice. Then, there are eggs that break on heads and hands, and eggs that pelt the ground and bounce, unphased by gravity. The hollers and cheers are infectious and the glee that rules the day is rarely interrupted. This year a new tradition started – a touching and heartfelt recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance at the onset of festivities.

My former neighbor on Carmel Street when I arrived in Gilroy 20-plus years ago, would really have loved this whole event. It’s right up Jim Laizure’s alley. The city’s first police chief passed away this week, and he loved to hang out in his garage with the door wide open, putter about with projects in between caring for his beloved wife, Betty, and visit with the neighbors. He had the friendly quality that helped put the glue into the neighborhood.

That’s what the Fourth of July celebration in our neighborhood does. It’s red, white and blue glue. Folks – and that’s the apropos word – understand that the glue is precious. They take care of it, knowing that the day and the traditions are like treasured photographs from days gone by.

As each year passes, my appreciation for that first festive invitation, which came in the mail just days after we moved in seven years ago, grows. Grandson Jackson has been in the parade for two years, and next year our new granddaughter (name to be determined) will be 8 months old and nudging her brother aside for the “Youngest Firecracker” award. A bottle of bubbles to blow with mom’s assistance or a fluttering pinwheel will be bestowed upon her to go along with one of those oh-so-precious medals. Photos galore will be passed around like butter at the dinner table. There will be a record. Memories will be made.

In this day I partake and am privileged to drink in deeply. For that I have wonderful Gilroy neighbors to thank who are part of a great community that I call home.

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